Iliad vs. Odyssey? An Essential Complementarity

A few days back I ran a twitter poll setting the Iliad against the Odyssey. I figured that the Iliad would win, but I did not expect this to be as close as it was.

If we were to evaluate the popularity of the epics based on their mentions (using the Google ngram function), we would see that a few centuries ago, the Iliad had a pretty impressive lead over the Odyssey.

ngram

Here’s a different Ngram provided by Kyle Sanders ()which indicates the Odyssey overtook the Iliad in the late 1960s

NGram od 2

In the past century the mentions of the epics started to draw closer together. Is this because more people had less experience of war? Is there something more modern or simpler about the Odyssey?

the manuscript tradition for the Iliad is much better–there are more copies surviving from almost every period for which we have evidence. The epics were different enough that Samuel Butler (only partly joking) proposed that the Odyssey was composed by a woman. The epics differences were sensed in antiquity as well. Here’s how Aristotle puts it:

Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b

“for [Homer’s] two poems are complementary in structure, the Iliad being simple in plot and a poem of passion, and the Odyssey complex (it has recognitions throughout) and a poem of character; moreover they surpass all other poems in excellent of language and thought.”

πρῶτος καὶ ἱκανῶς. καὶ γὰρ τῶν ποιημάτων ἑκάτερον συνέστηκεν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἁπλοῦν καὶ παθητικόν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια πεπλεγμένον (ἀναγνώρισις γὰρ διόλου) καὶ ἠθική· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις λέξει καὶ διανοίᾳ πάντα ὑπερβέβληκεν.

To pit one poem against another is, to my mind, to imagine a combat between day and night, land and sea, or life and death. These contrasts can be seen as polar–opposites canceling each other out–or they can be treated as binary where one can only exist because the other is there first. But it may be best not to think of them at all in terms of opposition, but instead as contrastive complements. This works on the level of content:

“This complementarity extends into other areas too. The so-called Monro’s Law states that the Odyssey never refers to any incident recounted in the Iliad, which at the very least strongly suggests that the Odyssey knew of the Iliad and deliberately stayed off its territory. Indeed, at the times when the Odyssey threatens to sing of Iliadic material, the moments are marked as highly problematic.” Barker and Christensen 2013

For all the years I have taught Homer in literature and myth courses, I have emphasized their complementarity in slightly different ways. Sometimes, I follow Aristotle’s emphasis on plots, pointing out that the Iliad ends in a funeral and the Odyssey ends in a wedding, anticipating in turn the plot structures of tragedy and comedy respectively. At other times, I have instead described the Iliad as a poem of death and the Odyssey as a poem of life. The former explores what is (and mostly what isn’t) worth fighting and dying for; the latter helps s understand what we live for and who we are outside of war.

Together, the epics teach how to live and how to die. One is essentially and forever incomplete without the other. But in concert, they reflect on the totality of life. (And I am so bold as to believe that this characteristic is part of why these two epics surpassed all others and survived antiquity: any other epic from their period would have been redundant).

I spent the first decade or more of my study of Homer passionately dedicated to the Iliad. I started working on the Odyssey primarily because I found students responding to it more easily than to the Iliad. I also grew more interested in how that epic engaged with other traditions, specifically those of Thebes and the so-called epic cycle. And then, when writing an introductory book about the epic with my friend Elton Barker, I was forced to think more deeply about the Telemachy and the importance of the reunions in epic’s second half.

But what really changed my relationship with the Odyssey was my own life. When I was writing on the Iliad in the 2000s, we were living a new state of war, sending our soldiers from the west to kill and be killed in a dwindling “coalition of the willing” in the east. The Iliad made sense to me. I used to mock the Odyssey too as that ‘other’ epic.

In 2010-11, I taught that other epic three times. We also welcomed two children into the world and lost my father to a sudden sickness in between. There is nothing like losing a parent and becoming one in the same year to force a reconsideration of life. These years also marked half a decade in Texas and a decade since I left New England. The Odyssey‘s exploration of who we are and nostalgia started to resonate with me like never before.

But I also started to see more in the epic itself. If the Iliad is a raging maelstrom of fire and blood, the Odyssey is a lit fuse which may or may not ever lead to a detonation. If the Iliad is loud and brash and confusing, the Odyssey is so subtle that many of us make the mistake of thinking it is simple. It is extremely sensitive to human mental function, to how we create ourselves through narrative, and to the therapeutic function of stories.

In antiquity, traditions of allegory were extremely influential among various approaches to the epics. Among these, one of my favorite readings of the epics as complements frames one as a narrative concerned with the development and excellence of the body and the other about the virtues of the mind.

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.

Of course, not all contrasts made between the two epics were positive. (Pseudo)-Longinus believed that the differences in the poem were results of the senility of the Iliad poet as he turned to the Odyssey.

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

I think Longinus is on to something here. But rather than being a sign of senility, the Odyssey‘s differences are indications of maturity. I don’t mean ‘mature’ as a sign of greater progress, necessarily; but I mean that the Odyssey is a poem that appeals more to those who have lived more in life, who have, like its hero, “suffered much on the seas and learned the minds of many people”.

So, if I had to save only 1, I would save the Odyssey, not because it is better than or superior to the Iliad but because its existence presupposes the existence of the other. And, one is, for better or worse, currently more meaningful to me.

The Sweetest Day and the Marriage of the Sun

Homer, Od. 6.181-185

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν, ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν· οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ’ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.

Hipponax, Fr. 68

“A woman has two days which are the sweetest:
When someone marries her and when someone carries her out dead.”

δύ᾿ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀκφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.

Babrius, Fable 24: Frogs at the Sun’s Wedding

“It was the time of the wedding of the summer Sun
And the animals held charming revels for the god.
Even the frogs were putting on choruses in their pond.
But a toad stopped and said to them, “this is no time
For our hymns of praise! This is for worry and grief.
For the sun nearly dries up every pool when he is alone—
What kind of evils we will suffer if, once he’s married,
He fathers a child who is something like himself?

Many people, thanks to an excess of empty-headedness
Delight at things which in the future they will not love, to the extreme.”

Γάμοι μὲν ἦσαν Ἡλίου θέρους ὥρῃ,
τὰ ζῷα δ᾿ ἱλαροὺς ἦγε τῷ θεῷ κώμους.
καὶ βάτραχοι δὲ λιμνάδας χοροὺς ἦγον·
οὓς εἶπε παύσας φρῦνος “οὐχὶ παιάνων
τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἡμῖν, φροντίδων δὲ καὶ λύπης·
ὃς γὰρ μόνος νῦν λιβάδα πᾶσαν αὐαίνει,
τί μὴ πάθωμεν τῶν κακῶν ἐὰν γήμας
ὅμοιον αὑτῷ παιδίον τι γεννήσῃ;”
Χαίρουσι πολλοὶ τῶν ὑπερβολῇ κούφων
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἄγαν μέλλουσιν οὐχὶ χαιρήσειν.

Euripides,  Fr. 464

“Get married already, get married, and then die
Either by poison or a trick from your wife.”

γαμεῖτε νῦν, γαμεῖτε, κᾆτα θνῄσκετε
ἢ φαρμάκοισιν ἐκ γυναικὸς ἢ δόλοις.

Hipponax Fr. 182

“The strongest marriage for a wise man
Is to take a woman of noble character—
This dowry alone safeguards a home.
[But whoever takes a fancy woman home…]

The wise man has a partner instead of a mistress
A woman with a good mind, reliable for a lifetime.”

γάμος κράτιστός ἐστιν ἀνδρὶ σώφρονι
τρόπον γυναικὸς χρηστὸν ἕδνον λαμβάνειν·
αὕτη γὰρ ἡ προὶξ οἰκίαν σώιζει μόνη.
ὅστις δὲ †τρυφῶς τὴν γυναῖκ’ ἄγει λαβών

<                                 >

συνεργὸν οὗτος ἀντὶ δεσποίνης ἔχει
εὔνουν, βεβαίαν εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον.

Embracing the Dead: Homer, Vergil and Macrobius for AP Latin Week

Odyssey 11.204-222

“So she spoke but as I pondered this in my thoughts,
I wanted to clutch the soul of my departed mother.
Three times I reached out as my heart urged me to embrace her,
And three times she drifted from my hands like a shadow
Or a dream. The grief in my heart only grew sharper
And I spoke to her, uttering winged words.

“Mother, why don’t you wait as I come to hold you,
So we may even in Hades throw our arms around another
And have our fill together of cruel grief?
Or is it that dread Persephone sends only this ghost to me
So I may groan, grieving still more?”

So I spoke and my lady mother responded right away:
“Oh, my child, most ill-fated of all men,
Zeus’ daughter Persephone does not allow you things,
This is the law of mortals whenever they die.
We possess no tendons, flesh or bones—
Those things the strong force of burning fire
Consumed, and when the spirit first leaves its white bones,
The soul flits about and flies like a dream.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γ’ ἔθελον φρεσὶ μερμηρίξας
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης.
τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ
ἔπτατ’· ἐμοὶ δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδων·
‘μῆτερ ἐμή, τί νύ μ’ οὐ μίμνεις ἑλέειν μεμαῶτα,
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν ᾿Αΐδαο φίλας περὶ χεῖρε βαλόντε
ἀμφοτέρω κρυεροῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο;
ἦ τί μοι εἴδωλον τόδ’ ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια
ὤτρυν’, ὄφρ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω;’
ὣς ἐφάμην, ἡ δ’ αὐτίκ’ ἀμείβετο πότνια μήτηρ·
‘ὤ μοι, τέκνον ἐμόν, περὶ πάντων κάμμορε φωτῶν,
οὔ τί σε Περσεφόνεια Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἀπαφίσκει,
ἀλλ’ αὕτη δίκη ἐστὶ βροτῶν, ὅτε τίς κε θάνῃσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα ἶνες ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ τὰ μέν τε πυρὸς κρατερὸν μένος αἰθομένοιο
δαμνᾷ, ἐπεί κε πρῶτα λίπῃ λεύκ’ ὀστέα θυμός,
ψυχὴ δ’ ἠΰτ’ ὄνειρος ἀποπταμένη πεπότηται.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.13

“What do you make of the fact that all of Vergil’s work is made as sort of mirroring of Homer’s”?

Quid, quod et omne opus Virgilianum velut de quodam Homerici opus speculo formatum est?

Aeneid, 6.700-2

“Three times I tried there to wrap my arms around his neck,
Three times his ghost fled the empty closure of my hands,
Something like a blowing breeze or a flying dream.”

Ter conatus ibi collo dare brachia circum,
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.

These lines in the underworld are repeated from Aeneas’ description of his flight from Troy when he bursts back into the city and encounters the ghost of Creusa.

Macrobius (Saturnalia 5.4 ) lists this a one of many passages adapted from Homer. But in his version, he offers a slightly different version of the Latin. Instead of the line listed in most MSS (2.794=6.702) Macrobius has Par levibus ventis volucrique simillima fumo, “similar to light winds and something like floating smoke”.

In his commentary, John Connington doesn’t make much of this variation. He does mention another.

Commentary on 2.792-794

[794] Hom.’s words are σκιῆ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ. Virg., in talking of sleep, probably has a dream in his mind. In any case there is no probability in Macrobius’ (Sat. 5. 5) misquotation ‘fumo,’ which Wakef. adopts. The Medicean of Pierius has a curious variety, “Par levibus pennis volucrique simillima vento.”

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.14-15

“Has it been proved to you that Vergil cannot be understood by someone who is ignorant of the sound of Latin and is equally distant to one who has not drunk Greek learning deep with the fullest thirst?

If I did not fear making you antsy, I could fill huge volumes with the material he translated from the most obscure Greek teachings. But these assertions are enough to support the thesis I have proposed.”

probatumne vobis est Vergilium, ut ab eo intellegi non potest qui sonum Latinae vocis ignorat, ita nec ab eo posse qui Graecam non hauserit extrema satietate doctrinam?

nam si fastidium facere non timerem, ingentia poteram volumina de his quae a penitissima Graecorum doctrina transtulisset implere: sed ad fidem rei propositae relata sufficient.’

Image result for Medieval manuscript Vergil

Epic and Empire: Aeneid 6 for AP Latin Week

Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 2.16.4

“Gradually, then, by granting citizenship to those who had not carried arms or had put them down rather late, the population was rebuilt as Pompeius, Sulla and Marius restored the flagging and sputtering power of the Roman people.”

Paulatim deinde recipiendo in civitatem, qui arma aut non ceperant aut deposuerant maturius, vires refectae sunt, Pompeio Sullaque et Mano fluentem procumbentemque rem populi Romani restituentibus.

wolfboys

Any student of Roman history understands that Rome’s expansion and strength relied in part on its ability to absorb and assimilate hostile populations. Today we often forget that the Italian peninsula was far from a uniform culture. (And a tour through modern Italy will confirm the persistence of many differences).  The process, of course, was not without pain and hard compromises, as Vergil echoes in Aeneid 6 during Anchises’ prophecy to Aeneas (851-3):

tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.

“Roman, remember that your arts are to rule
The nations with your empire, to enforce the custom of peace,
To spare the conquered and to subjugate the proud.”

There is of course a different imperial model mentioned at the end of the Aeneid when Zeus decides the fate of the Trojans exiles

“When they make peace through joyful weddings,
(May it happen), when the laws and treaties have joined them,
Do not allow the Latins to change their ancient name
either in becoming Trojans or being called Teucrians.
Don’t let them change their language or their clothing,
may it be Latium, may there be Alban kings for generations;
may the Roman race be strong through Italian power.
It fell: let Troy perish with its name.”

Laughing, the master of man and creation responded:
“Truly you are the sister of Jove and Saturn’s other child:
Such waves of rage turn within your chest.
But come, put down your rage conceived in vain—
I grant what you want, and, overcome, I willingly give in.
The Ausonians will preserve their inherited tongue and customs,
The name will stay as it is—the Teucrians will fade into the land
Once they have shared their blood. I will provide their sacred rites
And will unite all the Latins in a single tongue.
You will see a race mixed with Ausonian blood rise up
And outpace all men, even the gods in devotion,
No other race will perform your honors the same.”

cum iam conubis pacem felicibus, esto,
component, cum iam leges et foedera iungent,
ne vetus indigenas nomen mutare Latinos
neu Troas fieri iubeas Teucrosque vocari
aut vocem mutare viros aut vertere vestem.
Sit Latium, sint Albani per saecula reges,
sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago:
occidit, occideritque sinas cum nomine Troia.”
Olli subridens hominum rerumque repertor
“Es germana Iovis Saturnique altera proles:
irarum tantos volvis sub pectore fluctus.
Verum age et inceptum frustra submitte furorem
do quod vis, et me victusque volensque remitto.
Sermonem Ausonii patrium moresque tenebunt,
utque est nomen erit; commixti corpore tantum
subsident Teucri. Morem ritusque sacrorum
adiciam faciamque omnis uno ore Latinos.
Hinc genus Ausonio mixtum quod sanguine surget,
supra homines, supra ire deos pietate videbis,
nec gens ulla tuos aeque celebrabit honores.”

I suspect that Roman conceptions of empire were also involved in the expansion of the idea of world citizenship (the recently maligned cosmopolitanism). Although the following are attractive sentiments, with the exception of Diogenes and Epictetus, the speakers claim world citizenship from a position of power.

 

Diogenes Laertius, 6.63, on Diogenes the Cynic (4th Century BCE)

“When asked where he was from, he said “I am a world-citizen.”

ἐρωτηθεὶς πόθεν εἴη, “κοσμοπολίτης,” ἔφη.

Diogenes Jules Batien-Lepage

Cicero is one of the earliest sources attributing the sentiment to Socrates.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.108

“Socrates, when he was asked what state was his, used to say “the world”. For he judged himself an inhabitant and citizen of the whole world.”

Socrates cum rogaretur, cujatem se esse diceret, Mundanum, inquit. Totius enim mundi se incolam et civem arbitrabatur.”

Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius articulate different versions of what becomes a central part of Stoic philosophy.

Seneca, De vita beata, 20.5

“I know that my country is the world and that the gods are guardians, those judges of my deeds and words above and beyond me.”

Patriam meam esse mundum sciam et praesides deos, hos supra circaque me stare factorum dictorumque censores.

Seneca, De Otio, 4.1

“We encounter two republics with our mind–one is great and truly public, by which gods and men are contained and in which we may not gaze upon this corner or that one, but we measure the boundaries of our state with the sun; the other we enter by the fact of being born. This will be the state of Athens or Carthage or of any other city at all. It does not extend to all people but to certain ones. Some people serve the good of both republics at the same time, the greater and the lesser, some serve only the lesser or only the greater.”

Duas res publicas animo complectamur, alteram magnam et vere publicam, qua dii atque homines continentur, in qua non ad hunc angulum respicimus aut ad illum, sed terminos civitatis nostrae cum sole metimur; alteram, cui nos adscripsit condicio nascendi. Haec aut Atheniensium erit aut Carthaginiensium,aut alterius alicuius urbis, quae non ad omnis pertineat homines sed ad certos. Quidam eodem tempore utrique rei publicae dant operam, maiori minorique, quidam tantum minori, quidam tantum maiori.

Epictetus, Dissertationes 1.9.1

“If what is said about the kinship of humans and god by the philosopher is true, what is left for all people other than that advice of Socrates never to say when someone asks where you are from that you are Athenian or Corinthian but that you are a citizen of the world?”

εἰ ταῦτά ἐστιν ἀληθῆ τὰ περὶ τῆς συγγενείας τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων λεγόμενα ὑπὸ τῶν φιλοσόφων, τί ἄλλο ἀπολείπεται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἢ τὸ τοῦ Σωκράτους, μηδέποτε πρὸς τὸν πυθόμενον ποδαπός ἐστιν εἰπεῖν ὅτι Ἀθηναῖος ἢ Κορίνθιος, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι κόσμιος;

Vergil’s Fans and Foes: Some Prep Work for AP Latin Week

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione, chp. 69

“A teacher should prefer Vergil above all other poets, since his eloquence and glory are so great, that they could be neither increased by anyone’s praises nor diminished by anyone’s censure.”

Inter heroicos Vergilium cunctis praeferat, cuius tanta eloquentia est, tanta gloria, ut nullius laudibus crescere, nullius vituperatione minui possit.

Donatus, Vita Vergilii

“Asconius Pedianus wrote a book against Vergil’s detractors, but he nevertheless adds some objections of his own, mostly dealing with Vergil’s narration and the fact that he had taken much from Homer. But he also says that Vergil was accustomed to refute this latter criticism thus: ‘Why did they themselves not try to do take some verses from Homer? To be sure, they would learn that it easier to take Hercules’ club than to lift a verse from Homer.’ Yet, Asconius adds that he decided to retire so that he could do everything to the satisfaction of his malicious critics.”

Asconius Pedianus libro, quem contra obtrectatores Vergiliis scripsit, pauca admodum obiecta ei proponit eaque circa historiam fere et quod pleraque ab Homero sumpsisset; sed hoc ipsum crimen sic defendere adsuetum ait: cur non illi quoque eadem furta temptarent? Verum intellecturos facilius esse Herculi clavam quam Homero versum subripere”; et tamen destinasse secedere ut omnia ad satietatem malevolorum decideret.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 6.2

“I fear that, in my eagerness to show how much Vergil accomplished from his reading of the ancients, and what blossoms and what ornaments he poured forth from all of them into his own poetry, I may accidentally offer an opportunity for criticism to those uncultured and malignant fools who censure such a man for his usurpation of other’s works, not considering that this is the fruit of reading: to imitate those things which you approve in others, and to turn the sayings of others which you marvel at into your own use by a fitting turn. Our poets have done this among themselves, just as much as the best of the Greeks did. And, to avoid talk of foreign precedent, I could show with numerous examples how much the authors of our ancient canon have lifted from one another.”

Etsi vereor me, dum ostendere cupio quantum Virgilius noster ex antiquiorum lectione profecerit et quos ex omnibus flores vel quae in carminis sui decorem ex diversis ornamenta libaverit, occasionem reprehendendi vel inperitis vel malignis ministrem, exprobrantibus tanto viro alieni usurpationem, nec considerantibus hunc esse fructum legendi, aemulari ea quae in aliis probes et quae maxime inter aliorum dicta mireris in aliquem usum tuum oportuna derivatione convertere, quod et nostri tam inter se quam a Graecis et Graecorum excellentes inter se saepe fecerunt. Et, ut de alienigenis taceam, possem pluribus edocere quantum se mutuo conpilarint bibliothecae veteris auctores.

Vergil, Aeneid 2.796-798

“And here, I was shocked to find an overwhelming
Flood of new companions, mothers and men,
A band assembled for exile, a pitiable crowd.”

“Atque hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse novorum
invenio admirans numerum, matresque virosque,
collectam exsilio pubem, miserabile vulgus.

Image result for Ancient Roman Vergil

In Anticipation of AP Latin Week: Vergil, In Greek

Schol. In Plato Phaedrus 224b 21

“Virgilios, the poet of the Romans.”

Βιργί*λιος δὲ ὁ ῾Ρωμαίων ποιητὴς…

Greek Anthology: On A statue of the Poet Virgil

“Here stands prominent the clear-voiced swan beloved to Ausonians
Vergil, breathing out beautiful epic, a man whom his paternal Tiber’s
Echoes raised up as a second Homer.”

Εἰς ἄγαλμα τοῦ ποιητοῦ Βιργιλίου

Καὶ φίλος Αὐσονίοισι λιγύθροος ἔπρεπε κύκνος,
πνείων εὐεπίης Βεργίλλιος, ὅν ποτε Ῥώμης
Θυμβριὰς ἄλλον Ὅμηρον ἀνέτρεφε πάτριος ἠχώ.

Gr. Anth 16. 151.—Anonymous: Εἰς εἰκόνα Διδοῦς

“Friend, you are gazing upon an image of that Famous Dido,
An icon shining with her divine beauty.
I looked like this, but I wasn’t the person you hear of,
I have fame for honorable deeds.
For I never gazed on Aeneas nor did I go
To Libya around the time that Troy was sacked.
But I was fleeing the rape of marriage to Iarbas
When I stuck the double-edged sword through my heart.
Muses, why did you station a pure Vergil against me
Who made a lie of my prudence?”

Ἀρχέτυπον Διδοῦς ἐρικυδέος, ὦ ξένε, λεύσσεις,
εἰκόνα θεσπεσίῳ κάλλεϊ λαμπομένην.
τοίη καὶ γενόμην, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ νόον, οἷον ἀκούεις,
ἔσχον, ἐπ᾿ εὐφήμοις δόξαν ἐνεγκαμένη.
οὐδὲ γὰρ Αἰνείαν ποτ᾿ ἐσέδρακον, οὐδὲ χρόνοισι
Τροίης περθομένης ἤλυθον ἐς Λιβύην·
ἀλλὰ βίας φεύγουσα Ἰαρβαίων ὑμεναίων
πῆξα κατὰ κραδίης φάσγανον ἀμφίτομον.
Πιερίδες, τί μοι ἁγνὸν ἐφωπλίσσασθε Μάρωνα
οἷα καθ᾿ ἡμετέρης ψεύσατο σωφροσύνης;

Image result for Ancient Roman Vergil

What Does Helen Look Like?

A twitter friend asked me about the appearance of Helen recently:

This comes at a time when many are talking about the ethnicity of Homeric heroes and rightly arguing that so many of our ideas about race, color, and identity have little to do with the ancient world and everything to do with our own. (See also the discussion on Pharos.) Within this debate is the important realization that ancient concepts of hue and range of color-representation may have been altogether different from our own. In addition to Tim Whitmarsh’s essay (cited above) Maria Michel Sassi’s recent essay does well to explore gaps between how we conceive of color and how the ancients may have.

As @spannycat notes, Greek poetry describes Helen as xanthê and kuanopis. An insensitive and simplistic reading of these facts might claim that she was “blonde” with “blue eyes” (and I am not at all implying that @spannycat is doig this). Not only is the situation far more interesting and complicated than this, but I am pretty sure that even if we accept these two words as applying to Helen they would not be equivalent to the appearance these two terms denote in modern English.

Let’s start with the barest fact. What Helen actually looks like is never stated in Homer. When the Trojans look at her, they say she has the “terrible appearance of goddesses” (αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν). This, of course, is not terribly specific.

Elsewhere, she is “argive Helen, for whom many Achaeans [struggled]” (᾿Αργείην ῾Ελένην, ἧς εἵνεκα πολλοὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν, Il. 2.161) she has “smooth” or “pale/white” arms (῏Ιρις δ’ αὖθ’ ῾Ελένῃ λευκωλένῳ ἄγγελος ἦλθεν, 3.121), but this likely has to do with a typical depiction of women in Archaic Greece (they are lighter in tone than men because they don’t work outside) or because of women’s clothing (arms may have been visible). Beyond that? In the Odyssey, She has “beautiful hair” (῾Ελένης πάρα καλλικόμοιο, 15.58) and a long robe (τανύπεπλος, 4.305).

If anyone is looking for a hint of the ideal of beauty from the legend who launched a thousand ships, they will be sorely disappointed. Why? I think the answer to this partly has to do with the nature of Homeric poetry and with good art in general. Homeric poetry developed over a long duration of time and appealed to many different peoples. To over-determine Helen’s beauty by describing it would necessarily adhere to some standards of beauty while alienating others.

In addition, why describe her beauty at all when the audience members themselves can craft an ideal in their mind. As a student of mine said while I mused over this, Helen “Cannot have descriptors because she is a floating signifier”. She is a blank symbol for desire upon which all audience members (ancient and modern, male and female) project their own (often ambiguous) notions of beauty. To stay with the ancient world, think of that seminal first stanza in Sappho fr. 16:

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
[whatever] you love

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

As long as beauty is relative and in the eye of the beholder any time we disambiguate it by saying that it is one thing and not another we depart from an abstract timeless idea and create something more bounded and less open to audience engagement. I think that part of what makes Homeric poetry work so well is that it combines a maximum amount of specificity within a maximized amount of ambiguity.

Outside of Homer, Helen is described with a little more detail, but in each case the significance of the signifier is less than it appears. In Hesiod, she has nice hair again (῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο,Works and Days 165; this is repeated a lot in the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue). In fr. 9 of the Cypria she is merely a “Wonder for mortals” (θαῦμα βροτοῖσι·). Much later she has “spiraling eyebrows/lashes” (῾Ελένης ἑλικοβλεφάροιο, Quintus Smyrnaeus, 13.470).

If we want to learn more about Helen, she has additional features outside of epic poetry in lyric. I would be bold enough to claim that the more personal and erotic character of the genre is a better explanation for this specificity than anything else.

In lyric (e.g. Mesomedes, κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας,) Helen is “cyan-eyed”, but if we look at the semantic range of this nominal root—which describes dark stones and eyes of water divinities—I think we can argue fairly that this indicates a dark and shiny, even watery texture (like lapis lazuli). I suspect this is about the sheen of eyes rather than their hue.

Eustathius remarks that the epithet κυανώπιδα is common (κατὰ κοινὸν ἐπίθετον) and is often used for dark sea creatures, describing as well his hair (Ποσειδῶνα κυανοχαίτην, Ad Hom. Il 1.555.23). Indeed, nymphs in general are “dark-eyed” in lyric (καὶ Νύμφαι κυανώπιδες, Anacr. fr. 12.2) and water deities remain so in Homer (κῦμα μέγα ῥοχθεῖ κυανώπιδος ᾿Αμφιτρίτης, Il. 12.60). Outside of Homer marriageable women also receive this epithet, including Helen’s sister Klytemnestra (Hes. Fr. 23a κού[ρην Τυνδαρέοιο Κλυταιμήσ]τρην κυανῶπ[ιν· cf. fr. 23.27 and for Althaia, 25.14, Elektra (169).

From Robert Beekes. Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill, 2010

kuane

So, in lyric, Helen has dark pools for eyes. But what about her hair? At Sappho fr. 23 Helen is described as “xanthai” ([ ] ξάνθαι δ’ ᾿Ελέναι σ’ ἐίσ[κ]ην; cf. Stesichorus Fr. S103: [ξ]α̣νθὰ δ’ ῾Ελένα̣ π̣ρ[ ; Ibycus, fr. 1a.5: ξα]νθᾶς ῾Ελένας περὶ εἴδει ). But it is important to note that in this context there is a first-person narrator speaking (“I liken you to fair Helen…”). Note as well that there is something formulaic in these lyric lines: the epithet seems to begin the phrase each time.

When it comes to Hair color, xanthus is used in Homer to describe heroes, but not Helen (Menelaos is Xanthus, for example). A byzantine etymological dictionary suggests that the core meaning of this root has something to do with fire (Ξανθὴν, πυῤῥοειδῆ) and argues that the hair “symbolizes the heat and irascibility of the hero” (αἰνίττεται, τὸ θερμὸν καὶ ὀργίλον τοῦ ἥρωος, Etym. Gud, s.v.). But outside the Iliad and Odyssey the adjective is applied to goddesses: both Demeter (H. Dem. 302) and Aphrodite (Soph. fr. 255) are called Xanthê. Modern etymology sees this as anywhere from yellow to brown. But this is altogether relative again. “Light hair” in a group of people who are blond is almost white; among black/brown haired people, light hair can merely be a different shade of brown.

Again, from Beekes 2010:

xanthe

In the second book of Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem Trilogy” The Dark Forest, one of the main characters Luo Ji creates an ideal woman to love in his mind and goes so far as to converse with her, leave his actual girlfriend for her, and go on a trip with her. When he consults a psychologist about this, his doctor tells him his is lucky because everyone is in love with an idea–where the rest of the world will inevitably be disillusioned when they realize this, Luo Ji will never suffer this loss.

Trying to make Helen look like an actual person is not only impossible, but it is something which Homeric epic avoids for good reason.

Special thanks to .@spannycat for asking the question. Her own conclusions on the topic are pretty much the same.

menelaus_confronts_Helen.jpg

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